Social care is the backbone of society. Without a functioning care system, the burden falls on working people, significantly women, who are often subject to low pay and poor terms and conditions. Last year, GMB Scotland set out to bring more force behind the voices of our members who work in social care.
Often as a union (and in the wider labour movement) we have put resources and research into male dominated industries and, while those are important areas of our membership and can be politically important as well, it isn’t a coincidence that the same has not happened in sectors dominated by women. That is a matter of fact and we need to be honest about where we have come from if we are going to move forward. With more than half of GMB Scotland’s membership being female, it is so important that we recognise that and invest in the female dominated sectors our members work in.
The Show You Care report began with the idea that we needed a credible piece of work to reinforce and amplify our members’ voices and experiences that are the reality for those working in social care. The report concluded as the largest and most comprehensive engagement with frontline social care workers undertaken in Scotland to date.
We started with one basic question: What are the biggest barriers you face in delivering quality social care in Scotland?
The engagement we got back from members to this question alone was astonishing. The fact is that as things currently stand there are simply too many barriers for those in social care in Scotland to consistently deliver the high quality care that service users deserve.
Dr Eddie Donaghy, Research Fellow based at the University of Edinburgh, led on the report and conducted interviews of dozens of members from across Scotland to ensure we had as many perspectives included as possible. With a survey based on our members’ feedback, over 1600 care workers told us a story of a sector where the workers feel undervalued, rushed, often ignored and stressed out.
Our work started before COVID-19 but the messages were only amplified by the crisis. This is a sector that has been much discussed yet completely abandoned by politicians.
Recently the Scottish Government announced an independent review of adult social care, challenged with setting out a National Care Service. Following the recommendations in the Show You Care report, GMB Scotland is certain of one thing and that is we will only support a solution that properly values and rewards our members in social care. That starts with a £15 an hour minimum wage for care workers.
GMB Scotland’s Fight For £15 campaign is aimed at fundamentally changing the way we look at social care and the people who are employed to deliver it by truly listening to the voices of the workers.
We know frontline workers are the experts. Many have worked in social care for decades, having lived through the changes to the job and having felt the financial pressures of cuts to their pay and terms and conditions. These are pressures and stresses that those at the top levels of government have never experienced and those experiences are at risk of being ignored by the ‘experts’ on the review panel who represent the politicians and the bosses.
But why exclude the real experts when it only stands to undermine our alleged shared goals? Well the reality is that politicians will take the path of least resistance unless we stop them. GMB has not celebrated the announcement of a ‘review’ because so far a review from the Scottish Government has meant committees and papers and a whole lot of back slapping and dragging of feet.
This workforce is made up predominately of women who are not strangers to putting up a fight. At each step of the way, especially throughout COVID-19, care workers have had to fight for value and respect. They fought for PPE, for testing, for sick pay and they even had to fight to be recognised as essential workers in shops.
Until care workers are earning a decent wage that truly reflects the value of their work, we will keep fighting. Women’s voices will not be side-lined.
Megan Fisher, Assistant Organiser, GMB Scotland Women's Campaign Unit